Christopher Smith’s DVD Corner

Posted Oct. 31, 2008, at 10:04 p.m.
Last modified March 20, 2011, at 6:02 a.m.

“A Christmas Story: Ultimate Collector’s Edition”

Blu-ray: One of the best movies ever about childhood — never mind Christmas — focusing on one boy’s tumultuous, often hilarious life during the holiday season. Peter Billingsley, in a performance that’s something close to genius, is Ralphie, the naive yet calculating boy fighting for one gift — a Daisy Red Ryder 200-shot Carbine Action BB Gun — while chaos blooms around him, often by his own design. This modern-day classic gets the small details right and, for many of us, offers a nostalgic trip back. On high-definition Blu-ray disc, more wishes are fulfilled as the movie looks and sounds better than ever. Rated PG. Grade: A

“Get Smart”

DVD, Blu-ray: Clocking in at nearly two hours — and feeling every minute of it — is Peter Segal’s weary “Get Smart,” which stars Anne Hathaway’s hair, her clothes and her transfixing eyes; Steve Carell’s clipped delivery and deadpan shtick; and Dwayne Johnson’s swagger, which he has been honing for years. You were expecting something more? Perhaps a comedy filled with consistent laughs? A movie whose script rose to the talent of its leads? A film that didn’t feel as if it rumbled down some creaky assembly line, with people hammering away at it until it arrived to audiences dented and dinged? Same here, but good luck finding it. Though there are fleeting moments of humor in this otherwise bland re-envisioning of the 1960s television spy spoof that starred Don Adams and Barbara Feldon, there aren’t enough of those moments to allow the film to live up to its title. And that just isn’t smart. In fact, it was a mistake. Rated PG-13. Grade: C-

“Good Times: Complete Series”

: A mix of the best of “Times,” the worst of “Times” and, ultimately, the end of “Times.” While predominantly a comedy that followed Florida, Thelma, J.J., Willona, Bookman, Michael and Penny as they survived the highs and lows of daily life in the Chicago projects, the final season of the show got it especially right. It resisted sentiment (until the very end), when the late Esther Rolle returned after being written out of the fifth season. Jimmy Walker might have had the catchphrase “Dyn-O-Mite,” which for a time, was a pop-culture mainstay, but it’s the way Rolle played Florida — her hand steady, her sound advice, even if she had to scream to be heard — that made these times as good as they were. Grade: B+

“Looney Tunes Golden Collection: Volume Six,” “Looney Tunes: Spotlight Collection Vol. 6”

: Here are two reasons why some of us champion Chuck Jones as one of the kings of animation. He may never have had a theme park, but Jones had something arguably just as formidable — an edge, an irreverent wit, an anything-goes imagination, and especially his enduring, endearing cast of characters — Bugs Bunny, Porky Pig and Daffy Duck chief among them. In the sixth volume of “Golden Collection,” the extras are many — commentaries, documentaries and featurettes abound. Warner pulls out all the stops here, including in this four-disc set 60 Looney Tunes shorts. In the less-expensive “Spotlight Collection,” look for 30 key shorts, most found in the “Golden Collection,” and every one of them a treasure. Each set: Grade: A

“Monster’s Ball”

Blu-ray: With two major, unexpected twists buried deep within its script, a superb, Academy Award-winning performance from Halle Berry and a director eager to peel away the layers of bigotry, racism and hate ingrained in a small Georgia town, Marc Forster’s “Monster’s Ball” is one of those rare contemporary movies that lingers in the mind and doesn’t let go. The story itself is like a bruise, but don’t expect it to heal. “Monster’s Ball” remains open and raw to the end, leaving audiences to sort out for themselves all that has taken place without any nudging from Forster or assistance from Kilo Addica and Will Rokos’ understated script. Billy Bob Thornton, Peter Boyle, Heath Ledger and Sean Combs are terrific in this quietly gripping, unforgettable film. Rated R. Grade: A

“NewsRadio: Complete Fifth Season”

: The series’ tagline was “50,000 watts of pure comedy,” but it often felt like more. What “NewsRadio” got right in previous seasons was the behind-the-scenes bickering that takes place in newsrooms, the dramas and melodramas blooming in every nook, the backbiting and the egos, as well as the traces of affection. This fifth and final season of the popular, screwball series picks up after Phil Hartman’s murder, with Jon Lovitz taking the lead to a play a version of himself as WXNY’s new anchor. It’s a valiant but failed effort, with the show trying hard to recover in the wake of Hartman’s death, but unable to do so. Grade: C-

“Planet of the Apes: 40th Anniversary Collection”

Blu-ray: Includes all five of the original feature films — ”Planet of the Apes,” “Beneath the Planet of the Apes,” “Escape from the Planet of the Apes,” “Conquest of the Planet of the Apes” and “Battle for the Planet of the Apes.” The best remains the 1968 original, with Charlton Heston’s Col. George Taylor, an astronaut, slamming into a seemingly unknown planet inhabited by intellectual, highly evolved apes. The movie remains one of the best sci-fi films ever made, with Roddy McDowall and Kim Hunter emerging beneath the ape makeup, and the last scene bearing one of cinema’s most iconic images. The extras in this set are many and the writing is routinely good, with ideas driving the action, not the other way around. This franchise weakens from its brash start, but its themes hold up. Damn dirty apes? Depends on your point of view, but it’s a damn good boxed set from Fox, particularly now that all of the films are available on Blu-ray, where they look great. Grade: B+

“The Polar Express Presented in 3-D”

Blu-ray: Dress it up all you want — in this case, with 3-D — but you’re still left with a refrigerated sleeper car so devoid of life, it chills the screen. Using performance capture technology, the film uses real actors — Tom Hanks among them — to achieve photo-realism through computer animation. What we’re left with is a computer chip that renders stunning landscapes, but which fails to faithfully capture the human form. The children in this movie don’t look like real tots struggling to believe in Santa. They look like waxen, undead extras from “Diary of the Dead.” A creepy movie with Nazi undertones that arrived in stores this past Tuesday — fittingly in time for Halloween. Rated G. Grade: C-

WeekinRewind.com is the site for Bangor Daily News film critic Christopher Smith’s blog, DVD giveaways and archive of hundreds of movie reviews. Smith’s reviews appear Mondays, Fridays and weekends in Lifestyle, as well as on bangordailynews.com. He may be reached at Christopher@weekinrewind.com.

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